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Summary of World Views about Body

Alan Murray's picture

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BIG QUESTIONS:   

   When does life begin?
    I hate/like my body? Is it ok to change my body?
    Is the body everything or is there a separate soul?
    Does religion say my body is sinful?
    Can we do what we want with our bodies?


COMMON THEMES:
All the worldviews represented here share some basic views; though there are differences of emphasis (eg on mind/body/spirit issues)
    •    The body is key to our human nature and should be respected and cared for
    •    Excessive consumption and abuse of the body harms others as well as ourselves
    •    Care usually includes hygiene, diet (moderation) and exercise
    •    Bodily self-care has spiritual value and benefit to wellbeing
    •    Reverence for human life may have implications for certain moral/medical practices (eg abortion, euthanasia, plastic surgery)
    •    Ethical issues due to modern scientific/medical practice are complex and need study


DISTINCTIVE VIEWS:
The Jewish contribution emphasises modern difficulties for traditional views on the body:
    •    Rabbinical traditions say we should honour our bodies and promote our health
    •    Dietary rules kosher food and rituals over food preparation are important
    •    Judaism also teaches that we should enjoy life - in moderation
    •    Piercing and tattooing and plastic surgery were forbidden in the Torah, but many Jews now allow some practices (eg for medical reasons)


The Muslim contribution sees our bodies (and spirit) as ‘on loan’ from God:
    •    There is therefore a strong duty of care for the body, which also keep the spirit healthy
    •    Diet is also important - with rules (eg no pork, alcohol) and strict rules on how animals should be slaughtered, and food treated, for food safety
    •    Moderation, as well as purity, is important - eg not eating till the stomach is full
    •    Cleanliness should be maintained eg ritual washing daily and before prayer
    •    Modesty in dress includes (especially for women) use of the veil to cover parts of the body - and forbids excess use of ornament, tattoos, most plastic surgery
    •    Human life is God’s gift - abortion, euthanasia, suicide are seen as forbidden by most Muslims


The Sikh contribution sees the body as essential to spiritual health:
    •    ‘The Body is the Temple of the Lord’ in which spiritual wisdom is revealed
    •    Humans are the highest form of creation - to be human is a gift and honour which brings responsibilities
    •    Daily morning bathing and meditation are equally important
    •    Natural living diet should be moderate and healthy - no alcohol or drugs
    •    No piercing, or tattoos, nor hair cutting or dying, plastic surgery or excessive make-up or decoration
    •    No excessive fasting, extremes of self-discipline or mortification of the flesh


The Buddhist contribution also emphasises the spiritual value of attention of the body:
    •    The Buddha, observing his body, learned the three basics of existence: change, suffering and there is no self
    •    Meditation on the (32) parts of the body is a Buddhist discipline
    •    Most bodily functions (eg digestion, puberty) are non-conscious
    •    Bodily health is necessary to prevent deterioration and to give us strength for meditation (which also means mindfulness - being aware of body as well as spirit)


The Christian contribution seeks to reconcile the division between body and spirit which runs throughout Western thought, but:
    •    Genesis says that God loves his creation, earth, life and human beings
    •    The New Testament version of the Creation, the Word (God) became flesh
    •    The Puritan tradition denies any value to the body and flesh, or the senses (sensuality)
    •    The Catholic incarnational tradition suggests we should follow Jesus’s words to live life abundantly
    •    The ‘Fall’ story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden has influenced the view that the body is ‘sinful’
    •    We should love our bodies, even if we feel ourselves ugly, old, sick or disabled!


The Hindu perspective focuses on the health of the body and spirit:
    •    The Ayervedic system of natural healthcare based on diet, exercise (eg yoga) and herbal remedies
    •    Much Hindu thought sees three fundamental aspects of (human and other) existence:
    •    Sattva (purity/goodness), Rajas (energy/activity), Tamas (darkness, impurity, ignorance)
    •    Sattivic people eat pure (vegetarian), Rajas (highly seasoned, strong), Tamas (processed, impure)
    •    Many Hindus eat meat, fish, eggs or sea foods
    •    Sattvic food nourishes
    •    Rajasic food stimulates the senses
    •    Tamasic food is stale, rotten, or harmful to the body.


The Humanist contribution emphasises:
    •    “Treat others as you would yourself” implies treating yourself well
    •    Our respect for our own bodies and health is essential to well-being
    •    Ethical questions are complex and cannot be settled by following rules
    •    It maybe right for the state to limit liberties which do harm to others
    •    For example, recreational drugs may be pleasurable for some people, but they can lead to addiction, unemployment and crime, and can also destroy producing societies (eg Colombia)